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Among Friends

On 09.08.2022 the Welt (online edition) published the article by cantor Avitall Gerstetter "Why the growing number of converts is a problem for Judaism". As a result, Ms Gerstetter was "released" from the Oranienburger Straße congregation (Welt-Online, 19.08.2022). Anyone who enters Avitall Gerstetter into the Google search engine (filter: "last year") quickly gets an overview of the fierce reactions her post triggered. At its core is the question "Who is a Jew? Here is the letter to a Jewish friend - as my answer to this question:

Dear friend,

I will be careful not to dwell on who is halachically Jewish. Especially since I know that opinions already differ on this. I also work together with converts, whom I hold in high esteem - because of their commitment. And yet there is a big difference between "them" and me (and you).

As you know, I was born into a Jewish family. This included the tiny Jewish community in Dresden, which saw itself primarily as a community of destiny: the Schreiers from Meissen (you will remember them), the Eschwege, the Aris' .....

All these people had little or no interest in religion.

And yet: they celebrated Passover/Seder together, for example. This is the story of our ancestors, parents, families, friends: From oppression to freedom! The Exodus from Egypt is so central in the memory of most Jews that it was remembered under all circumstances:

Passover celebration in the Warsaw ghetto. I wonder if my grandfather was (still) there? Yad Vashem Archives FA33/1860

Ghetto Lodz, 1943: Baking Mazzot in secret, Yad Vashem Archives 37CO7

Before Passover in 1944, prisoners in Bergen-Belsen asked a fellow prisoner rabbi what to do if unleavened bread was not available.

The Rabbi's answer (Since I don't know Hebrew, I have to rely on a foreign translation): Before eating Chamez one should say with deep devotion:

Father in heaven, our desire is to eat matzah on Passover and to observe the prohibition of leavened bread [...] But we are forced to eat leavened bread [...],

because slavery prevents us and we are in mortal danger.

These examples, which are part of the history of our families and/or their closest friends, with whom we grew up (unasked), distinguish us from the converts. For them, Passover can be nothing more than a custom celebrated according to ritual - no matter how much they know about the background and how much effort they put in. It is not their story.

Being Jewish without a Jewish background has consequences. Two examples of this:

After the names of murdered people and the places where they were murdered are read out, a convert says the Kaddish. What is his relationship to this? Is this more than a formal declamation? Being Jewish, not being of Jewish origin, has consequences. Two examples of this:

After reading the names of the murdered and the places where they were murdered, a convert says the Kaddish. What is his relationship to this? Is this more than a formal declamation? Unlike us: places are mentioned that we remember since childhood when we ask about our relatives.

Another example: A convert received the religious Jewish name "Schlomo [Solomon]" when he converted to Judaism. He uses this name as a "stage name" (instead of his civil name Sigurd) in his reports for a free Dresden radio station. This touches me unpleasantly: with the name Schlomo he flaunts his (acquired) Jewishness. Does he hope to attract more attention by doing so? This hoped-for effect presupposes the Holocaust. Only since then has everything that sounds Jewish received special attention in Germany.

But there are experiences and sensibilities that cannot be acquired through hard work and dedication.

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